Like the vice presidential debate last week, the Democrat and the Republican candidate on stage last night were not so much talking to each other as they were to two different audiences.
As ABC News Political Director Amy Walter notes, President Obama's job was to rev up his flagging base and convince wavering supporters that he actually wants another term. And, he accomplished that with his aggressive performance. (Click Here for ABC News' Debate Fact Check)
One of those moments came when Obama took Romney to task for accusing him of focusing on politics in the aftermath of the attack in Libya.
"The suggestion that anybody in my team, whether the Secretary of State, our U.N. Ambassador, anybody on my team would play politics or mislead when we've lost four of our own, governor, is offensive," Obama said. "That's not what we do. That's not what I do as president, that's not what I do as Commander in Chief." (Read the Full Transcript of the Second Presidential Debate)
Mitt Romney, on the other hand, needed to appeal to those disaffected Obama supporters, like moderate suburban women and soft Republicans. His job was to try to shatter the caricature that had been created of him by months of attack ads and the 47 percent video.
He presented a more moderate Mitt: pushing back on suggestions he was going to restrict access to contraception and reminding voters that his health care plan in Massachusetts covered almost 100 percent of the children in his state.
"I don't believe that bureaucrats in Washington should tell someone whether they can use contraceptives or not," Romney said at one point. "And I don't believe employers should tell someone whether they could have contraceptive care of not. Every woman in America should have access to contraceptives."
Obama's command of the stage last night -- and his 180 improvement from his listless performance in Denver -- made it easy for the chattering class to declare him the winner.
Even so, his win is not going to upend the race in the way that Romney's success at the Denver debate did. Ultimately, this debate is likely to stop what was turning into snowballing momentum for Romney, but we won't see a similar post-DNC convention surge for Obama either.
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